But what if you cannot accept this reality?
First, let me share what radical acceptance is not:
Instead, by stopping the ineffective fight with the reality of a situation, radical acceptance clears the way for us to use our energy to address what is happening. It allows us to move forward.
This may mean:
None of this can happen until we radically accept the reality of a situation as in fact real, that it is actually happening. Once we do that, we can get unstuck and start moving through whatever is happening.
What does this look like?
A simpler example is my recent move home to Minnesota after living in Colorado for nine years. The winters are very mild in Colorado compared to Minnesota so I was hoping for a milder first winter back in the upper midwest. Give our big, very early snowstorm yesterday (October 20th!!!) and the fact that was our third snow of the season, it isn’t looking good. I could totally fight with the reality of this and refuse to admit or accept this is happening. But the reality is, we still have around 5-6 inches of snow on the ground right now and there are predictions for a colder and snowier winter than normal.
Once I accepted the reality of this situation, I was able to let go of my fear and laugh. I mean it is pretty funny that the first year I ever remember it snowing this early is my first year back after nine mild winters! It also allowed me to spend time researching warmer winter coat options since I realized mine is not going to cut it. I don’t necessarily like that I am looking at a nastier winter than normal for the state, but I have accepted that I am and am trying to find ways to deal with it and maybe even enjoy it. I have plans to look for cross country skis, a ski mask, and to dig into my scrapbooking this winter. And truth be told, with COVID19 I’m really not leaving my house as much as I used to anyway so what a perfect winter to be intense.
What about bigger issues, like death?
Radical acceptance definitely can help with big issues too, even with death of a loved one, but I find it doesn’t happen right away. I mean, often times the pain is too much to be able to accept the reality of a loved one’s death.
My mom died unexpectedly in February 2019, a death that hit me very hard as we were very close. I was so deep in the hurt and pain of it all those first months, that any time I was talking with a client about using the skill of radical acceptance for their life (for something less complex than death), I felt a “NO!!!” moving through my body. As I tuned into this, what was real for me was that I could not accept that my mom died - I was not ready to - and any attempt to do so or mention of the idea triggered intense anger in me. So I let it go. I just accepted that at that time I needed to just sit with the pain of her death. You could say that I radically accepted that I was not ready to do anything except cry in sadness that she had died.
After several months, I noticed myself starting to shift towards the practice of radical acceptance around her death. I certainly did not like that she had died - I was still very sad and very angry about it. However, I was starting to be able to accept the reality of my life that my mom had died, that she was no longer available in her physical body. That reality sucked and hurt more than anything else in my life prior. But it was the truth. As I leaned into that, I was able to work through a new layer of the pain of her death. I was no longer suffering from the initial shock or fighting with reality that she had died. It wasn’t my favorite thing, that’s for sure, but it was reality.
I am now 20 months out from my mom’s death. I still miss her every day. I don’t like that she died; I want her back. But I no longer struggle with it being real. By accepting that she has left her body, I have instead found other ways to connect with her through writing, talking to her, and working with an evidential medium. It’s not the same and I still cry whenever I truly remember, but I can see the healing happening. Healing that couldn’t have happened until I accepted the reality of her death.
So how can you practice radical acceptance?
The first step is to notice when you are fighting with reality. This often shows up in me as an urgency to push or force things to be a certain way, often coupled with anger, less often with sadness. Start noticing when you are struggling to accept the reality of the situation.
Then, ask yourself if you are ready to deal with the reality of a situation. If it is too big or too intense, you may not be ready to work through all of the feelings and issues that arise when you accept the reality of a situation. If that is the case, spend some time working through what you can.
Once you are ready to deal with the situation, start to work on accepting the reality of what happened. Perhaps saying to yourself: “the reality is……” and inserting what happened. I find it useful to follow that up with “I don’t have to like it or agree with it, but the reality is, it is what is happening”. Most of the time I notice this isn’t a one time statement. It can be something we repeat to ourselves every time our thoughts about the situation arise.
As we start to radical accept the reality of a situation, we can start to work through our own feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about it. This will help us identify the next steps we need to take to live in alignment with who and how we want to be. It clears the way for us to move forward to cope effectively and make the changes that are in our control.
So the question is, what do you need to radically accept right now? Start there.
This blog is for information only. Reading this blog or interacting with it is not medical advice and does not constitute a therapeutic relationship. This blog is not a substitute for mental health care. Please be sure to seek out mental health care as needed.